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Why Schlumbergera - Christmas cactus plants - are so cool!
It's the season to not only be merry but to welcome evergreens into your home. Why? Because they symbolise life! The isles of supermarkets everywhere are crammed with festive products including Christmas house plants, bulbs and growing kits. It's good to remember that outdoor things continue to not only survive but some are peaking with a brilliance that isn't obvious at other times of the year.
Schlumbergera or Christmas cactus are beautiful in winter. They are fine examples of a plant that is about to reach its peak at the darkest time of the year. It is literally bursting into life, transforming from a cascading mound of succulent foliage into a bright and beautiful exotic display of brilliance. These plants come from the cool mountains of Brazil where they are pollinated by hummingbirds.
If only we had some of those! But whereas the iridescent hummingbird with its humming wings and agile tongue wouldn't tolerate our climate, the Christmas cactus is perfectly suited to life inside our UK homes.
Where does the Schlumbergera come from? (Answer is NOT the supermarket!)
You might imagine that something called a cactus would originate from a desert. But no. Schlumbergera grow upon tall rainforest trees in a relatively cool and shady location. Brazil is one of the main habitats of the native form.
These adaptable plants drape from the branches of rainforest trees, where they root into moss and small pockets of free-draining compost. They gradually spread until they festoon the branches with weeping foliage.
How to display a Christmas Cactus
Schlumbergera, placed in hanging baskets or positioned on shelves where the foliage can dangle, works so well in a living room - provided it is light and bright enough, without being in direct sun.
When kept as a house plant, the flowering just happens to coincide with Christmas which is why these beauties have become so popular. They are naturally primed to flower when the light levels have dropped to minimal levels and when they are happy, the floral display is nothing short of spectacular.
What's more, these plants are so easy to care for. They are drought-resistant, reliable, architecturally pleasing, beautiful when in bloom - and what's more, they don't have prickles! Just a few words of advice: these plants don't really enjoy direct sunlight and they might develop red pigment in the foliage as a protection from summer sun. Water the plants regularly but never too much. And ensure you give them a resting period shortly after flowering. Move them to a cooler room; reduce watering and allow them to lie dormant for a month or two before spring.
Here are six reasons to love Schlumbergera - the Christmas cactus:
They are bursting into flower during the festive season.
The evergreen foliage is lush and architectural all through the year.
Schlumbergera are so easy to keep.
They don't have the spiky prickles that adorn most other cacti.
These are also excellent air-purifying plants, i.e. they are good for you!
Hummingbirds are responsible for much of the pollination of these plants in the wild. Cool, or what?
Poinsettias at Christmas
No Christmas floral tribute is complete without a mention of the old favourite: Poinsettias. Euphorbia pulcherrima, native to Mexico and Central America, have bright upper leaves called bracts that many people assume are flowers. The actual flowers are tiny, green or yellow inconspicuous blooms that grow in the centre of each bunch of leaves.
Look out for:
Poinsettias are extremely sensitive to draughts and cool temperatures and they will wither if temperatures fall lower than about 10 degrees C. They like to see the morning sun but need shade during the hotter part of the day. Unlike the reliable Christmas cactus, it's difficult to get a Poinsettia to give you a second or subsequent display of their colourful leaves. They need long, uninterrupted, dark nights for at least eight weeks in spring in order to form their visual feast.
Cause for celebration
Did you know that December 12 is celebrated as National Poinsettia Day in the US? It honours a former US ambassador to Mexico, Dr Joel R Poinsett, who introduced the plant to the US. The Poinsettia has been chosen as a symbol of festive giving. There's a story about a child who picked weeds from the side of the road in order to give a gift to the baby Jesus. The weeds bloomed into bright red and green flowers and everyone felt that a miracle has occurred. The plants certainly have a touch of magic about them.
Whatever house plants you welcome into your home this Christmas, enjoy them!